Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Five reasons why you should try Vital Ingredient

I recently won* a tasty lunch from the lovely people at Vital Ingredient - the fast food chain known for its healthy 'eat your way' salads.  It was an enjoyable lunch and, having had positive experiences there several times before, I decided to give you five reasons (in no particular order) why you should try Vital Ingredient.

Egg pasta, tuna, vine tomatoes, boiled egg, potatoes, edamame beans, ranch dressing.

1 The choice is great.

This is typically how ordering a salad works at Vital Ingredient: pick one of five bases for your salad, choose one of 10 items from the deli counter, four of 34 items from the veg counter and then one of 10 dressings.  A full list can be found here.  

While this might sound a bit complicated at first, all it means is that you're spoilt for choice and there's little excuse for not finding a combination you like.

And if you don't fancy a salad, their full menu have all sorts of hot foods, desserts, drinks and breakfast.

2 It's healthy.

Any seemingly healthy food can be turned unhealthy if you add too much of this and too much of that.  Thankfully the folks at Vital Ingredient have created a really easy-to-use Nutritional Calculator, helpful for those on strict health regimes and diets - or if you're just plain curious.  

Nutritional value of my salad.

3 It's filling.

Some salads can leave you hungry and wanting more?  Luckily, Vital Ingredient has plenty of filling ingredients to keep you going throughout the day.  Rice, pasta and potatoes are all available, for example.

4 They deliver.

Vital Ingredient is a pretty common sight in the City of London, where there are loads of office workers.  If however you and your team are a bit too busy to go out at lunch for whatever reason, they also deliver a range of platters - check out their delivery menu for more details.  

I'm yet to try this out yet - but they do look good!

5 It's tasty

Last but not least, the combination of fresh ingredients and great choice lead to a tasty meal!

In the past, I was always a bit unsure about a 'salad place' for lunch, but I decided to give it a try one day and I actually quite like it now.  Give it a go!

* If you're curious, this is how I won the caption competition...
Vital Ingredient on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: although I won a free lunch, Vital Ingredient did not know I would write a blog entry and therefore did not influence the content.

Monday, 28 April 2014

My Old Place: authentic Chinese food in The City of London

Several of my friends from mainland China have raved about My Old Place for years, but only recently have I managed to give it a try.

Located near Liverpool Street, London, My Old Place is not a typical Chinese restaurant, so you might not recognise some of the dishes on the menu.  My friends explained to me that My Old Place serves mainly (but not exclusively) food from north east China.  This is quite different from the food you'll find in your average British Chinese restaurant, which is largely influenced by food from south east China.

As someone who'll eat any food that isn't still alive, moving or celery, I'm always up for trying new dishes - which is exactly why I ordered "mix of pig's ear and cucumber".  The pig ear was crunchy yet easy to bite and swallow, while the cucumber made it almost like a salad - refreshing!

Chopped pig ears and sliced cucumber - wouldn't mind eating this again.
I really liked the stewed beef.  The meat was soft, the sauce was flavoursome (and mixed well with rice), while the vegetables were plentiful and well-cooked.  The tomatoes certainly gave the dish a sweeter flavour and added some colour at the same time.

Stewed beef.
We also ordered a soup to share, made up of chicken, clear flat noodles (new to me) and some rather bizarre looking mushrooms (even for someone who's eaten a lot of mushrooms).  They were dark in colour, very long, thin and quite chewy.  If you know the name, please leave me a comment :-).

The fried pork was excellent.  Crispy and meaty with sauce nicely dripped on top, I suspect most people would enjoy this dish.  This one is definitely worth ordering again.

Fried pork.
We decided to also try one of the Sichuan dishes.  While the beans might look green (as you'd expect), I'm not convinced it's entirely healthy.  That's because this dish is fried in a lot of oil and dried chilli, giving the beans quite a distinctive texture and bit of a fiery kick.  It's actually not as spicy as the many chillis you see suggest, so most people could probably handle this dish fine.

Sichuan dishes are known to be spicy.

What did I think overall?  Well, the food was a good experience for me - lots of different dishes from the norm and everything tasted pretty good.  Judging by the amount of Chinese people in there, there was definitely an authentic feel to the place too, as confirmed by my friend from north east China.

The downside is that the service is not the greatest.  For example, our waitress couldn't be bothered to refill our teapot - the kettle had apparently been switched off - and it's the type of place that will give you your bill before you've asked for it.

Finally, the restaurant didn't accept any form of card payment on my visit, so bring some cash with you if you want to try some authentic Chinese food in the City of London.

Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street or Aldgate East

Square Meal My Old Place on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 26 April 2014

JRC Global Buffet (Ilford) is some sort of food theme park and here's why

JRC Global Buffet in Ilford is bonkers - it's like a food theme park in there.

The place is big - very big - and possibly one of the largest restaurants I've been to.  It's no wonder why; there are food stations from 12 different different countries.  Like Asian food?  There's Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese (including live teppanyaki grill).  You can also get Spanish food, Italian pizza, pasta, salads and a variety of tasty-looking desserts.

As far as buffets go, this one is pretty good.  It's obviously not fine dining, but choice is good, food tasted fresh on my visit and the owners have made an effort at presentation, the latter of which you can't normally say for other buffets.

Check out some of the pics I took below.  (Sorry I wasn't able to get more snaps of the food stations; the restaurant was pretty full and it was not easy to take that many photos!)

Part of the dessert station.  There was a LOT more on offer!

Meats and seafood for the teppanyaki grill.  Pick a maximum of two items per visit.

Grilled scallops were good - and big!

Dim sum station.

Various meatballs, seafood balls and crab.

So if you live nearby and are pretty hungry, then consider JRC.  At £15.99 per person on Sunday, it's not bad value if you have an appetite.

And don't forget to print your discount voucher from their website!

Nearest station: Ilford

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Noodle House comes to London: a good start for the Asian food chain from Dubai

The Noodle House is a restaurant chain owned by Jumeirah Restaurants from Dubai, which today (Thursday 17 April 2014) opens its first UK branch in Soho, London.

I was lucky enough to go to one of its 'soft opening' nights yesterday, effectively an opportunity for staff and management to practice running the restaurant ahead of the real opening - definitely a smart move.

But a soft opening doesn't mean it was quiet - in fact far from it. It was full of diners (apparently made up mainly of friends and family of staff) and had a lively atmosphere, so it very much looked the part in one of the busiest parts of London.

The girlfriend and I tried a selection of dishes. First came the 'Asian Salad'. Despite the generic name, it had a delicious and tangy citrus sesame dressing with a fried wonton skin on top - very refreshing. There were lots of ingredients in this (see caption), which meant there were lots of interesting textures and flavours; it was definitely not a boring salad.

'Asian Salad': mixed greens, mangetout, red onions, spring onions, coriander, baby corn, cashews and sesame seeds tossed in citrus sesame dressing, served with a crispy wonton.

The (seven) butter prawns were excellent. Served with the head separated (but still on the plate), the sauce was perhaps the real star. Cooked in a 'chilli curry butter', the dish didn't taste like any one particular ingredient, but rather a nice blend of many ingredients coming together. The char-grilled nature of the dish definitely added a slightly smoky flavour.

Butter Prawns: char-grilled garlic marinated king prawns tossed in a chilli curry butter, topped with fried curry leaves and black vinegar.

The bakmi goreng was another solid effort. The sauce had a subtle spicy kick after every mouthful. It's not too spicy though, so most people will be able to handle it. If you like stir-fried noodles, this would be a good choice.

Bakmi Goreng: udon noodles with chicken, prawns, bean sprouts, cabbage, pak choi, eggs and a sweet chilli ginger sauce, garnished with spring onions and fried banana shallots.

The vegetable fried rice was not bad and was generally a nice accompaniment for the rest of the meal. Fried rice is a pretty easy thing to make so it's difficult to get wrong.

Vegetable Fried Rice: wok-fried jasmine rice with peas, sweetcorn, carrots and mangetout. 

Moving onto dessert, the girlfriend and I shared a lime and ginger cheesecake. Sometimes cheesecakes can be quite heavy but this one was of the lighter variety - not too rich. The lime and ginger flavour was quite subtle and I personally would have preferred it slightly stronger, though the girlfriend thought it was fine - so all down to personal preference I guess.

Lime and Ginger Cheesecake. 

As expected with a soft opening, there were a couple of very minor hiccups along the way. The two-person cocktail we initially ordered was not available, and we received two portions of the butter prawns (not that we're complaining!) - but this is to be expected from a new group of people working together, so I'm not going to criticise them for that.

More importantly, the staff I interacted with were friendly and seemed positive and excited about the restaurant. Plus, underpinning all of it is that the food is pretty good - not a bad effort at all.

The Noodle House also serves cocktails.

Closest Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Leicester Square

Square Meal

Disclaimer: I won a competition to attend the soft opening, which included a free meal (but not drinks). However at no point was I asked to write a positive review in return.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Happy Easter: chocolate Easter egg gift box by Cadbury Gifts Direct

An agency I work with recently sent this lovely chocolate Easter egg gift box to me.

Cadbury chocolate in a box, in lots of foam.

The box is by Cadbury Gifts Direct, which I didn't know existed until receiving this. It is pretty cool and is an ideal gift for any friends, family or loved ones who like +Cadbury chocolate. If you're looking to get something in time for this Easter, check out their page here.


Monday, 14 April 2014

Pak Awie: decent Malaysian restaurant in Paddington, London

The girlfriend and I decided to try Pak Awie Malaysian restaurant in Paddington, London, on the basis that Malaysians we know dine there. As it turned out, on the evening we went, the restaurant was almost completely full with Malays. That has to be a good sign, right?

Prices are reasonable and we were hungry (having done a lot of walking that day), so we decided to order four dishes plus two bowls of rice - a reasonable amount of food for two people.

The squid dish caught our eye on the menu, as it's not something we usually order when we visit the Malaysian restaurants found in China Town. We were really pleased; at first because of the quantity (there were two large squids), then that it was so soft, and thirdly because it was nice and spicy, though not overbearingly so.

Sambal sotong - stir-fried quid in ground chilli and dried shrimp paste.
We wanted a balanced meal so we ordered the kangkung belacan, a spinach dish in shrimp paste. As expected, the stems had a nice crunchy texture while the leaves were soft.

The next dish was like a curry, consisting of chicken on the bone in a coconut creamy sauce. The chicken was soft (as you'd expect from chicken on the bone) and the sauce went really well on our rice.

Chicken curry...sorry can't remember the name!

We also ordered the Malaysian omelette - telur dadar. This was a pretty simple dish consisting of egg and onions, so this went down well enough for what it is.

Telur dadar.
By the end of our mains, we were pretty stuffed, so we decided to share dessert. We ordered the sago gula malaka, which consists of sticky sago with coconut milk and brown sugar underneath. This was neither too sweet or creamy, so I quite liked it.

Sago gula malaka.
Overall I really enjoyed Pak Awie and it was comforting to know that there were so many Malays in the restaurant. I'll be eager to go again in the near future, perhaps trying some dishes I've had before at other Malaysian restaurants to see what differences there are.

Teh tarik - 'pulled tea'. Milky and sweet.

Closest Tube: Paddington

Square Meal

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Chin Chin Labs Nitro Ice-Cream - nitrogen-frozen ice cream from Camden, London

Among Camden's busy shops and market stalls, you will find Chin Chin Labs ice cream shop. Strange name for a place that sells ice cream? That's because it specialises in ice creams frozen instantly by liquid nitrogen, making 'nitro ice cream'.

The concept is pretty simple: pick what you want from a relatively small menu, and then they make it in their open kitchen in front of you in minutes.

I opted for the pondicherry vanilla ice cream, topped with hazelnut plus a bit of raspberry sauce on the side. Pretty tasty stuff and it's always a good thing when you can see and taste the vanilla!

Now that summer's coming (kind of), you could consider popping in if you're in the area - for the novelty if nothing else.

Closest Tube: Camden Town

Square Meal Chin Chin Laboratorists on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Cigalon: Provençal food in London

Cigalon was the first Provençal restaurant I've been to and I enjoyed the food there; I can certainly see why it has had some good reviews. Located in Chancery Lane, London, it features a modern and cosy interior - perfect for a dinner after work with the girlfriend.

We tried out Cigalon's three-course set menu for £20, which included a champagne cocktail. Not bad value, but would this be at the expense of quality and portion size? No - the food was pretty good.

First there was a selection of breads and tapenade (like an olive spread). This was the first time I've come across tapenade and - I won't lie - I did have to look it up to find the name! It's certainly a nice change from the usual butter or olive oil & vinegar.


For the starter, I ordered Tripes 'Bastiasises', a dish consisting of tripe (obviously), gnocchi and olives in a tomato sauce. This was a really well-seasoned dish and there was not a single bland flavour, while the tripe was not overly chewy.

Tripes 'Bastiasises'.
The girlfriend ordered the guinea fowl for her mains. All the flavours complemented each other well and she particularly enjoyed the crispy topping of the Provençal tomatoes.

Roasted Guinea Fowl Breast & Tomatoes Provençal. 
I had the asparagus and ricotta risotto. The risotto had a good bite and there was a decent amount of asparagus in it. It was rich but not too rich.

Asparagus & Ricotta Risotto.
For dessert, we both ordered the chocolate moelleux, blackcurrant & violet sorbet. Individually, each part of the dessert had strong flavours but things worked well together. The chocolate moelleux was very rich, but this was tempered by the sour sorbet and the vanilla-like sauce.

Chocolate Moelleux, Blackcurrant & Violet Sorbet. 
The restaurant has a rather understated exterior and is located in a part of the street that's easy to miss. However, inside it was bustling with people, mostly I'm assuming enjoying their meals. Service was good too and we had a very friendly waiter. It's worth a visit.

Champagne cocktail.

Nearest Tube: Chancery Lane or Temple

Square Meal Cigalon on Urbanspoon